Francisco the Filipino
Francisco the Filipino
By Henry Cottrell Rowland, M.D,
FRANCISCO, was troubled in spirit. To be sure he had marched twenty miles the day before, through the paralyzing heat of a tropical midsummer day, lugging an obsolete Remington and ten pounds of misfit ammunition. During the march he had eaten two handfuls of rice and drunk a few swallows of tepid water from his bamboo canteen. When the column reached Dagupan that night, it had seemed necessary to his half-caste company commander to throw up a trench, of which, considering the time taken to build it, a squad of experienced sappers might have been justly proud. The trench was completed in three hours, leaving the company three more for sleep before reveille sounded. This was quite enough, sleep being at any time a much-desired luxury, but never an absolute necessity, to the Filipino soldier.
But all of this was not the cause of Francisco's uneasiness. Indeed, as far as physical conditions were concerned, he had much to be thankful for, as his breakfast had left nothing to be desired. Some of the fishermen along the river had contributed a fine mess of minnows, and the townspeople had brought in bananas, sugar-cane, and a confection made of chopped cocoanut and crude sugar; also unlimited cigarettes. The Presidente himself had sent some choice politos to the officers, so every one was in good spirits, and the campaign was bound to be successful. But, notwithstanding all of this, Francisco was not happy. The conversation of his two companions disturbed him. One was a Tagal from San Fernando, and the other a Chinese mestizo from the Tondo district in Manila. The latter had been with the party who attempted to burn the city several months before. Both were old campaigners who had been under fire many times, and both had charms which insured their safety of life if not of limb. These charms had been bought of their local "padres," and contained many grotesque figures and cabalistic signs. True, the Tondo man had been shot in the leg in the fight through the Calle Sta. Maria, and afterwards imprisoned for a short time in the casemates of the Cuartel Santiago, but his sister, who sold piño cloth by the Puente General Blanco, had effected his release. Among other arguments and inducements, she had proved to the adjutant that the prisoner's wounded leg would prevent further efficiency in the field for at least six months, at the end of which time the rebellion would of course be at an end.
"It is said," remarked the Tondoman, "that the bushy hair upon the faces of the giant Americanos is red from being constantly dyed in the blood of children, which they devour after taking a town."
"It is true," replied the Tagal, shifting his weight upon the uninjured limb, "and yet some among them are kind to the children. I myself have seen an American soldier carry water to a child dying of smallpox."
"Was the mother of the child beautiful?"
"I do not know, but it may have been the case."
"But these Americans, why should they hate us so?" asked Francisco.
"I do not think that they hate us so much. It is only that they love to kill. My uncle's brother-in-law, who drives a quilez in Manila, told me that he has seen an American soldier stand upon a table in a drinking-room and shoot at his own people about him, though none had in any way harmed him. They continually seek pretexts for quarreling among themselves, and were it not for their officers they would soon set upon one another until but few remained."
"Would that they might!" returned the other. "Yes, they are indeed frightful savages. Now with us, when we kill it is for some good reason, because we have been done an injury or think that some one is about to do us one and we fear him. Or perhaps he may stand in the way of our advancement. Then we kill him quietly and it is all over. But these Americans seem never so happy as when there is some murder afoot. I have noticed that they complain bitterly when set to some light work about the barracks, but exclaim with joy when about to be led on a hard, hot march across the country with the chance of killing some of us. Then they are so inconsistent. They profess with pride to being heretics, and loot our churches when opportunity offers; yet I myself have seen many wearing scapulars when bathing in the rivers. Also they say that we are immoral, shameless, and degraded—and they bathe naked before our women! In their civil administration it is the same way. Their Governor-General has caused cock-fighting within Manila to be forbidden, while licenses have been granted to many more drinking-houses."
"That," said the other, "is probably the reason for his prohibiting the cock-fighting, which is through the instigation of the drinking-house keepers, as the cock-fighting takes the crowds from their rooms, or perhaps the men who run the mains refused to pay them 'cumshaw.'"
"No, it cannot be that, for my uncle's brother-in-law told me of a man who ran a cockpit and who went to the commandante of his district and asked him to name his own price. And the commandante was very angry, and had him put in the jail over night."
"It must be that they are all somewhat crazy."
"Undoubtedly, for when they fight they stand up and laugh and wave their arms when they might keep themselves covered, and sometimes a few will rush howling madly at our strongest trenches though their friends are falling all about them. Then it becomes necessary for us to run away, and build new trenches again."
"But why do you not remain and kill them?" asked Francisco.
"Have you ever seen a company of gigantic Americanos charge, screaming like a pony gored by a carabao and their pale eyes gleaming through the bristling hair upon their faces?"
"The Virgin forbid!" said Francisco, crossing himself and looking nervously out to sea.
"It is said, however," he remarked, "that the entire American army is now among our islands, and that in their own country, far across the sea, a rival President, who has a great following of his own, is about to obtain control. This new President does not favor keeping our islands, as he wishes the army to remain in its own country, which is said to be even larger than the island of Luzon." Both men looked incredulous. "So, if we can keep the Americanos out until this new President is elected, we may win our independence. This should be easy to do, as our fellow-countrymen, together with the fever, kill many every day."
Reassured by the sound of his voice, Francisco was fast gaining confidence, and his speech grew stronger as he noticed the effect upon those around him. He was about to proceed when an old Tagal at the end of the trench arose and pointed a skinny arm seaward. "They come," he said in the Tagallo tongue. A little ripple ran down the line. Francisco looked out across the Gulf. Far to the westward a little black smudge on the horizon gradually grew longer and longer as the northeast trade wind fanned the smoke from the slaty Japanese coal up through the great funnel of the transport. Then another smudge appeared beyond, and another. Now they were seen by the many watching eyes about the town, and a thin bugle-note pulsated through the shimmering heat-waves. It seemed to Francisco that it reflected the tremulous beatings of his heart.
A small, wiry native, very black and dripping perspiration, came running splay-footedly down the beach towards the trench.
"Is Francisco Sanches here?" he gasped in guttural Tagallo.
"I am he."
"The Señor General wishes you at headquarters." Francisco hurried back towards the town with the orderly, and was at once admitted to the General's presence. The latter was seated at a polished teak table writing busily. He looked up as Francisco entered, and nodded.
"Be seated, amigo," he said kindly.
When he had finished his note, he took a few kernels of soft boiled rice, smeared them on the folded edges of the paper, and sealed them together.
"Take this at once to Captain Isidro," he said to the orderly. When the man was gone, he turned to Francisco, who arose.
"I have appointed you acting Captain during the absence of Captain Isidro, who has a severe attack of the calentura periciosa," said the General. "You will take command of the trenches crossing the road to San Fabian. You probably will not be attacked, as the Americans must cross the bar and come up the river to land, when they will be under the fire of our trenches, which are very strong. The enemy cannot land on the beach between here and San Fabian, or at the latter place, as the surf is always too high at this season of the year, so you will simply be held in reserve. Should you be needed and acquit yourself creditably, your promotion will be permanent. That is all, Captain Sanches; here is your order."
Francisco thanked the General and went out. Now that he was assured of a position of less danger, the sinking sensation caused by the black and threatening clouds upon the horizon gave way to one almost of disappointment. True, he had his commission, but how could he hope to hold it permanently when no opportunity was to be had of his distinguishing himself?—for that the enemy could ever hope to take the formidable trenches along the river banks seemed quite impossible. From the tales that he had heard his mother tell of the fights between the Spanish and the insurrectos, it was first necessary for the enemy to throw up trenches of their own, from behind which they might exchange shots indefinitely with perfect safety and to the infinite credit of both parties. That the Americans might land and assault the works under fire never occurred to him. It would have been preposterous, and beyond all the bounds of decent warfare.
On his way to his. post he passed an encampment of Igorrotes, the wild hill tribes, who had reluctantly consented to ally themselves with the Tagallos to repel the Americans, only after repeated assurances of an easy victory and promises of unlimited loot. Francisco had the instinctive suspicion and dislike of all lowlanders towards their mountain neighbors, and he glanced at the long bows and wicked-looking spears of the naked savages with strong disfavor. Some of their women were with them, and these were engaged in roasting a small chow dog over a bed of coals. Arrived at his post, Francisco assumed command of his company with the easy superciliousness that the educated Oriental always extends toward the coolie class.
The company was composed of over one hundred men, only about forty of whom were armed with rifles. The rest, carrying only bolos and cane-cutters, were to distribute themselves with the riflemen in the trenches and stand by to pick up the piece of the nearest man who had no further use for it. All, however, wore the Filipino uniform, consisting of white blouses, white trousers, and in some cases grass sandals. Most of them wore coarse panama hats, the wide rims of many of them being caught up to the side of the crown by a triangular badge—the Katapunan insignia. The road was already strongly intrenched, so that there was nothing to do but lounge about and smoke and await the next event. For this military evolution the entire company possessed, the greatest talent. In the meantime, however, many of the more industrious soldiers employed themselves in making the little bamboo thorn stars of sharpened splinters of bamboo bound together at angles to one another, which, strewn in the dust of the road, were almost impossible to see, and when trod upon would pierce the toughest sandal and inflict a punctured wound of the foot that would render the victim unable to march for many days.
From his position Francisco could not see the bay, but occasionally he would mount to the roof of a nipa hut, whence he commanded a fine view of sea and shore. The larger vessels were approaching very slowly and warily, but one of the smaller ones steamed boldly up to the river mouth and sent a few shells whirring over the sand dunes behind the beach. Finally the night came and hid them from view.
Francisco slept in the nipa hut at the end of his trench. About midnight he was awakened suddenly by wild cries of rage and fear, followed by a couple of rifle-shots fired in quick succession. As he sprang from his mat he noticed a clear, bright light as of the moon, but more intense, that illuminated the trees and houses with a dazzling radiancy, leaving the shadows, however, darker than ever. And while he stood speechless with wonder, watching this fearful phenomenon, a great vibrating shaft of light, springing apparently from the sea straight up into the inky sky, swung slowly downwards, cleaving the black night in an enormous arc from zenith to horizon, and there gleamed into his awe-stricken face a great eye of such dazzling brightness that he quickly raised his hand to shield its piercing rays.
For a moment it shone, when just below it there came a spout of yellow flame, a screaming whir over his head, followed by a crash of thunder from behind. And then the wild clamor of voices, in which he could distinguish the yells of the Igorrote warriors, broke out again. The next moment dark, naked figures were leaping all around the hut. The challenge of his sentries was lost in the wild babel of cries in Spanish, Tagallo, and the dialect of the mountain tribes. Climbing hastily down the ladder, he met one of his men hurrying to the trench.
"What does it mean?" he gasped. "Who are these people, and what is that light?"
"’Tis the light from the American war vessel. They have fired bursting cannon-shot into the camp of the Igorrotes, and they are fleeing, as they say it is not well to fight with wizards who turn night into day. But as they go they seek to kill our soldiers, saying that they have been deceived by us."
"Look out!" The man sprang aside as a tall, naked form leaped past him, taking the trench at a bound. On the other side he paused, turned, and drove a long spear at Francisco, who had barely time to drop as it flew over his head. The next moment there was the spit of a Mauser beside him, and the savage pitched forward on his face.
"Pig of a mountaineer!" said the soldier. "Of what use are your sticks against the rifles of the soldiers of Aguinaldo?"
The shelling soon ceased, but the searchlights continued to play further up the beach toward San Fabian. Francisco spent the rest of the night watching them.
At length the sun rose far in the southeast, and the tropical day burst in all its glory. The camp of the Igorrotes was deserted, and out on the bay the white sides of the great American ships shone pink with the reflected light of the sunrise. Boats were coming and going, not toward the river mouth, but to the north in the direction of San Fabian. From the trenches where Francisco was situated the road ran winding for a couple of miles across the rice-paddies and into a large palm orchard beyond. Suddenly from this grove there emerged a small white speck enveloped in a cloud of dust. As it drew nearer it proved to be a native upon a Filipino pony, and then Francisco could see the rider plying his quit of carabao hide vigorously. The sun was well up and the heat-waves shimmered unevenly over the rice dikes. Here and there the little white cranes stepped daintily among the still damp parts of the field, or, lighting upon the back of a carabao buried to his muzzle in a boggy spot, performed sundry kind offices to the mutual benefit of bird and beast. The horseman rapidly approached the trench, and Francisco called to the sentry not to stop him, for evidently he was the bearer of news. The man did not pause, but kept straight on, his poor little jaded beast breathing heavily and the froth lying white under his coir hakamar.
"They have landed at San Fabian—the Americans!" gasped the courier when within hearing distance.
"But how?" cried Francisco. "The surf will not have permitted."
"Madre de Dios! there was no surf. Look at the sea," screamed the man, and sped on.
It was so. For perhaps one or two days during the whole season of the northeast monsoon the wind has been known to fall, and the big thundering billows that pile continuously over the gleaming beach subside into sleepy wavelets of innocuous size. No one knows the cause. Perhaps way to the northward a sudden, unseasonable typhoon had forced its way into the teeth of the mighty northeast trade, and temporarily stemmed its strength, or one of the sudden changes in submarine topography occurring frequently in that volcanic country had upset the usual order of things; but true it was that no great, swaying swell, mounting in anger only when it met the obstruction offered by the beach, rippled the sleeping surface of the bay. To-morrow it would come again and be for weeks as it had been for weeks before, but to-day it was not.
The courier had reached headquarters, and soon the quivering bugle-notes rang out about the little town. Squads of white-clad soldiers came running from the shore. The trenches on the beach were practically abandoned, and soon new ones were in process of construction about the landward side. Men, women, and children dug like gophers, and the lean and ragged Spanish prisoners sweated over their spades. And as they worked, a thin, brown, sinuous line uncoiled itself from the palm grove across the meadows and spread fan-shaped over the plain. Then a heavier snake emerged, but kept straight down the road until within half a mile of the trenches, when it halted and shortly disappeared in the castor-bushes on either side.
Half an hour passed. The skirmish-line across the rice-fields was coming within range, and Francisco was anxiously waiting for the order to commence firing, when it suddenly melted away as though the ground had swallowed it up. And they had hardly vanished when he saw a small bunch of horses which moved rapidly down the road, crossed the bamboo bridge, swung sharply to the right, and headed for a little knoll almost within rifle-shot of his trench. A gigantic figure upon an enormous horse rode slightly in advance, closely followed by a smaller man upon a native pony. Francisco could catch the flash from some bright object that was slung under his arm.
The businesslike practicality of the whole affair was beginning to affect the mercurial dispositions of the Filipinos. From the American advance there came not one strain of martial music, nor the flicker of a flag of any sort, yet here they were, fronting and flanking the town, by sea and land, with an evident purposeful design that was the more ominous for its quiet.
That was not the way to fight. Formerly, when the insurrectos used to fight with the Spaniards, there was much music and waving of flags, heavy firing, and light losses; and finally, after a "grande combate," the Spanish marched triumphantly home one way and "los insurrectos" the other, and everybody was pleased. Yes, that was certainly the way to fight.
But these whimsically ferocious giants in khaki seemed determined to kill somebody. A stray shell from one of the gunboats struck the embankment not thirty feet from them. For a moment it seemed to Francisco that the town and the bay and everything about him was rotating wildly. A soldier raised him.
"Are you hurt, capitan?" he asked.
"I think not," he answered, dazedly, "But I see a man is hurt."
"Two are killed, señor," replied the man. "There is now a chance for me," pointing to the rifle smeared with blood that he had just picked out of the trench.
Francisco turned pale and sick as he saw the former owner of the rifle, a boy about his own age, writhing on the ground a few paces away, and calling with a lipless mouth upon the Virgin and his patron saint. His face was a mass of blood, and both eyes were gone. A mestizo doctor hurried to him and gave him a draught. Shortly he became quiet and was carried away. Three Tagallos attempted to leave the trench before the next shell arrived. Two were beaten back by a captain with his riding-quirt. The third slipped past, but was shot before he had gone thirty paces.
A small white flag with a red center was seen nodding from the top of the hill. Another appeared above a rice dike in the meadow, and the next moment the skirmish-line was again in motion moving steadily towards the town. At last the longed-for order, "Commence firing," was given, and Francisco repeated it in a tremulous voice. The town trenches spouted flame all along the line; but the brown line continued to quietly advance. Francisco glanced down at his men. A soldier would crawl to the top of the bank, sight carefully, then close his eyes, contract his features, and jerk his gun violently upward as he pulled the trigger. The recoil generally kicked him back into the trench again.
"Why don't you hold your piece steady there when you fire?" he said to the soldier near him. "Every time you pull the trigger you spoil your aim."
"Our shoulders are very sore from the fight at Balong, Señor Capitan," replied the man, "and the kick of these rifles is heavy. Even now the shoulder of my tunic is stuffed with grass."
It was very true. The recoil of a rifle adapted to the use of a man averaging one hundred and fifty pounds and more was a serious matter to men averaging about one hundred and not accustomed to their use.
The brown line continued to advance, but had not fired a shot. Now Francisco began to notice an occasional holiday in the ten-yard interval. They were within four hundred yards, when suddenly they disappeared behind a rice dike which seemed suddenly to become dotted with black spots. An aide of the General dashed by.
"Get down into the trenches!" he cried. "They are to fire in volleys."
The order was a trifle late. Jets of smoke sprang from the dike. A rippling roar, and the air about them hummed like an ill-tuned harp. Dust flew from the top of the trench, and screams and groans came from all sides. Beside him a man doubled over on his face and twitching convulsively reminded Francisco of the Defeated Warrior in the cockpit just after he had gotten his mortal stab. Then came the crash of another volley, and a few more rifles were picked up by the reserve. The wounded were carried to the rear. The dead lay where they fell. And now the column from the sides of the road suddenly appeared, quickly taking intervals to the right. A yell of excitement rose from the Filipino trenches, and the men stood up to get a better sight at the massed column before they opened. The next moment another volley sent them back into the trenches again. A tall man sprang to the front of the new-formed line, which broke into a run. The tall man waved his hat, and ringing across the rapidly lessening space between came a yell which froze Francisco's blood. Here and there the Filipino soldiers were climbing out of the trench and running back into the town. Many of the officers had already deserted their posts, and Francisco caught a glimpse of one of them behind the hut hastily slipping from his gorgeous uniform into an amigo or peasant suit that he produced from some hidden corner. He looked again toward the enemy; they were coming on leisurely at a slow run, and occasionally a man would drop on his knees and fire into the trench. And even in his fear and excitement Francisco was struck by the indifferent way in which the enemy acted. As his companions in the trench the morning before had said, the Americans were laughing and calling one to another as they charged.
The trench was fast becoming depopulated. About Francisco there remained only a dozen men, all of whom were from the coast, typical Tagallos, black of skin and wicked of countenance. Francisco picked up a rifle lying in front of him and took a hurried sight at the American officer.
"If I can but kill that man," he thought, "they will be leaderless and thrown into confusion."
He fired, and threw his head to the right without lowering his piece to watch the effect of his shot. The tall man suddenly straightened out, threw his revolver high into the air, his knees buckled under him, and he sank back on to the ground. A savage yell went up from those around him, and before Francisco could drop back into the trench he felt a hot flash of pain which started at his wrist, ran lancingly up his arm and through the front of his chest. A great faintness came over him, and he sank back inertly. "I am hit," he thought, hopelessly, "and now I shall be captured and shot—first, however, being tortured because I slew their capitan." He watched the fight about him with uninterested eyes. The trench was full of dead and wounded. All of those able to move had run away. A few had reformed further back in the town, and bullets were whistling over the trench from both directions. A man next to him groaned so loudly that it angered him, and he turned with an impatient remark upon his lips, but the sight that he saw silenced him. Then his waning interest was centered in a giant in brown who was bearing down upon him in great, ungainly strides. The water was running from his face in streams, and dripped from the point of his unkempt beard. His flannel shirt gaped open at the chest, displaying a skin of angry red, with a sickly-looking white margin about it. His khaki trousers clung wetly to his long, lean thighs. The giant leaped over the trench, and, sitting down beside Francisco, pulled out a flaming bandana and mopped his high features vigorously.
"Wall, by gum!" he remarked affably to himself, "if that weren't the hottest scamper I ever seen! Wus than chasin' pigs outer the garden." He swung the canteen around under his arm and raised it to his lips. Then he saw Francisco watching him with thirsty eyes. He noticed the red blotch on his arm and chest.
"Heh! plugged in the wing and breathers, ain't ye, sonny? Hev a drink?"
"Thank you kindly, Señor," said Francisco, taking the canteen in his uninjured arm.
"Be derned! speak English, heh! Reckon I'll hev to look arter yer for old times' sake."
"Hey, Jack," he called to a mate near by, who was lying on his face gasping heavily. "Don't lay thar like a catfish in ther sun. Come here and help me pack this 'ere kid back to the doctor."
Then, as the man did not move, he rose heavily, straightened out by degrees, and lounged limply over to the prostrate form.
"What's the matter with yer, hey?" He took him by the shoulder and rolled him on his back. The man sagged over, but did not speak. His arms flopped loosely across his chest. His face was purplish, with a white line about the lips.
"Wall, wall, derned if he ain't sunstruck!"
He rolled him out of the sun into the trench, which offered the same shade that an oven might give. A short distance off a steward and private of the hospital corps were helping a man on to a stretcher.
"Hey there, boy, here's a feller that I reckon's sunstruck, and thar's a little nigger with a hole in his bellers."
"All right; here comes some more stretchers." The corps man jerked an expressive thumb over his shoulder.
Francisco, saw a slim youth in khaki trousers and flannel shirt driving four frightened Chinese coolies ahead of him with his riding-whip. Two of the coolies were carrying folded stretchers over, their shoulders.
The soldier who had spoken to him picked up his canteen and took another pull. Then he handed it to Francisco.
"They mayn't come to you right away," he said. "Got to get our fellers first. Jest give that canteen to one of the nurses when ye get through with it. Ta-ta!"
He picked up his rifle, gave a hitch to his trousers, and started towards the town that his company was now approaching.
Francisco tried to thank him, but his voice failed.
"Why did he give me the water?" he wondered. "I am his enemy, and surely he saw me shoot the Capitan." He could not understand it, and soon gave up the problem.
The slim youth stopped in front of the unconscious American, felt his pulse, and rolled him on to the stretcher. Then he turned to Francisco.
"Now," thought the boy, "I will be taken and tortured. It is better to kill and to be killed at once."
He reached for his pistol with his uninjured arm, though the effort cost him frightful pain. Before he could draw it from the holster the American gripped him by the wrist. Francisco sank back weakly. The American took the pistol from him and put it in his haversack.
"Mucho malo, mucho malo," he said, sternly. "Yo medico—no combate." (Very bad, very bad. I doctor—no fight.)
He unbuttoned Francisco's blouse gently and exposed the wound in his chest. Then he took some gauze from a little package, placed it over the hole, and bound it snugly in place. The wounds in the arm were treated in a like manner. When he had finished, he raised Francisco's head and held the flask to his lips. Then he placed him gently on the stretcher and smiled at him reassuredly.
"Yes, thank you, Señor Medico."
"Oh, you speak English, do you?"
"But very badly, señor."
"But too well to try to shoot a man that is helping you," said the doctor, gravely.
"Ah, the señor doctor will forgive me. I did not know. I thought I was to be tortured."
"Oh, come! you knew better than that. You will be well treated as long as you behave yourself; but don't try any more of that sort of thing. You are going to the hospital now, and as soon as you get well enough you will be set free to try and kill some more Americans."
Then to the Chinese coolies:
Francisco's head sank back upon the blanket. His eyes closed.
"These Americans," he thought, "I do not understand them."